I occupied a large house some distance from the mess in company with a field-officer and the Adjutant of my regiment. The former, about 1 p. m., was summoned by an orderly to attend a meeting at the quarters of the Brigadier commanding the troops at Ferozepore. We paid no heed to this incident, as it occurred to us that the Major's advice and opinion were required on some matter of regimental or other routine.
Vicars and I were in the habit, since the hot weather began, of making ices every afternoon, and had become, from long practice, quite proficient at the work. At three o'clock we were in the midst of our occupation, our whole thoughts and energies bent on the accomplishment of our task. Clad in loose deshabille, seated on the floor of the sitting-room, we worked and watched the process of congelation.
Presently a quick step was heard in the hall, the door was thrown open, and the Major, rushing in, sank breathless into a chair. The Adjutant and I jumped up, and in our haste upset the utensils, spilling on the floor the contents we had taken so much trouble to prepare. A minute or two passed, and still no word from our friend, who, portly in shape, and of a plethoric temperament, seemed overcome by some terrible excitement, and fairly gasped for breath.
"What on earth is the matter?" we asked.
Slowly, and as though uttered with considerable difficulty, the answer came:
"All the Europeans in India have been murdered!"
Now this was rather a startling announcement, and somewhat premature, considering that we three, at any rate, were in the land of the living, with no immediate prospect of coming dissolution. We looked at each other, at first serious and alarmed, as became the gravity of the situation, and utterly unable to comprehend what it all meant. This phase of the affair, however, did not last long, and soon changed from grave to gay. A merry twinkle appeared in Vicars' eyes, to which my own responded, and at last, fully alive to the absurdity of the gallant officer's remark, our pent-up sense of the ridiculous was fairly awakened, and we roared with laughter again and again.
This unlooked-for result of his dismal communication roused the Major, who first rebuked us for our levity, and, after an interval occupied in the recovery of his scattered senses, proceeded to acquaint us with the true facts of what had happened at the Brigadier's quarters.
A despatch by telegraph had arrived that morning from Meerut, the largest cantonment in Upper India, stating that the regiment of native light cavalry at that place had mutinied in a body on the 10th instant, and marched for Delhi. This had been followed by a revolt of all the sepoy infantry and artillery, a rising of the natives in the city, the bazaars and the surrounding country, who, almost unchecked, had murdered the European men and women on whom they could lay their hands, and besides, had set fire to and "looted" many houses in the station. Fortunately for the safety of the English in India, the miscreants failed to cut the telegraph-wires at Meerut till too late, and the news of the mutiny and outrage was as quickly as possible flashed to every cantonment in the country.
The Brigadier had therefore ordered the commanding and field officers of the different regiments stationed at Ferozepore to meet him in consultation at his quarters. Intelligence so startling as that just received required no small amount of judgment and deliberation in dealing with the native soldiers at this cantonment, and some time elapsed before the council decided as to what was best to be done under the circumstances.
Finally it was resolved that a general parade of Her Majesty's 61st Foot and the battery of European artillery should be held at four o'clock on the lines in front of the barracks of the former corps. The two regiments of native infantry were to assemble at the same time, and, with their English Officers, were ordered to march from their quarters, taking separate directions: the 45th to proceed into the country, leaving the fort of Ferozepore on their right, while the 57th were to march out of cantonments to the left rear of the lines of the European infantry. The commanding officers of these regiments were also instructed to keep their men, if possible, well in hand, to allow no straggling, and to halt in the country until further orders after they had proceeded three or four miles. The remaining regiment, the 10th Native Light Cavalry, for some reason or other was considered staunch (and as events proved, it remained so for a time), and it was therefore ordained that the troopers should parade mounted and under arms in their own lines ready for any emergency.
Thus far we learnt from the Major, and Vicars, whose duties as Adjutant required his presence at the barracks at once, donned his uniform, and, mounting his horse, rode in all haste to give directions for the general parade.
Shortly before four o'clock the Major and I also left the house and joined the regiment, which was drawn up in open column of companies in front of the lines.
Notice had previously been sent to the married officers in the station directing them to make immediate arrangements for the transport of their wives and families to the barracks. This order was obeyed without loss of time, and before half-past four all the ladies and children in the cantonment were safe under the protection of our soldiers at the main guard.